Innovative packages are the key in the fight against food loss and wastage. More effective barrier layers, germicidal films and freshness indicators are intended to help products to keep for longer and stop consumers’ throwaway mentality. However, despite all these improvements, companies have to keep a constant eye on process efficiency and on costs.

In the developing countries, one out of six children is undernourished, which amounts to an overall figure of 100 million. The United Nations (UN) estimates that undernourishment causes the deaths of 2.6 million children under five years old per year. This means that hunger is still one of the biggest scourges of humanity.

Yet no one should have to go hungry. Every year some 1.3 billion tons of food worldwide ends up being thrown away — a conclusion of the current report “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources” of the Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.) of the UN. If food losses were reduced by using food more prudently, famines could be curbed.

According to a current study by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, suitable packages are capable of reducing food loss considerably. Developers are therefore working hard on new concepts for packaging machines, the related process technology and “smart” packages.

Reducing spoilage also will be the central theme at the Innovationparc Packaging at the trade fair interpack 2014, in Düsseldorf, Germany. Exhibitors at this special Innovationparc will present their ideas on how food can be protected better from May 8-14. Furthermore, during the SAVE FOOD Conference at Messe Düsseldorf’s Congress Center South on May 7 and 8, experts from politics, industry and society will be exchanging views on food loss and wastage.

Reporting continuously on a product’s state of freshness, time/temperature indicators are another approach in the battle against spoilage and waste. A useful feature is that they make any breaks in the cooling chain visible, for instance.

Research also is being conducted on active packages that interact with their contents. PET bottles are treated with oxygen absorbers like iron so that oxygen sensitive beverages such as beer and fruit juice keep for longer. Then there are films enriched with preservatives like sorbic acid that combat germ proliferation on foods. Critics claim that the additional chemicals on active packages impair the products’ natural quality. In their search for a remedy, scientists of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) in Freising, Germany, are developing antimicrobial materials based on plant extracts, e.g. from rosemary.

“This way, food manufacturers can go further towards meeting the consumer’s wish for natural, health-promoting products,” said IVV materials developer Sven Sängerlaub.